Sunday, July 20, 2008

Concerning The Dark Knight

Whoever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn him into a monster.
And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
--Friedrich Nietzsche

Chances are pretty good that you don't need me to tell you to go see The Dark Knight. It's a Batman movie; even the bad ones are hits. But having just seen it myself, I can't help but blather forth some minor commentary. I'll avoid spoilers and just talk in general terms because you really do want to go into this one with as little foreknowledge of the details as possible. Because the details in this movie are completely fantastic.

The Dark Knight may indeed be based on characters from a comic book, but this is no comic book movie. Quite the contrary, it is easily the most serious treatment of the subject matter that's ever been on screen. And it has the verisimilitude that its predecessor, Batman Begins, lacked. The movie's ensemble cast allows the eponymous hero to remain mostly in the shadows, where he belongs. This is a movie about not just the Batman, but the people around him, and by extension the people of Gotham city as a whole. It is about facing the worst choice in your life and dealing with the consequences. It's about society crumbling. It's about fear. It's about chaos. In short, it's about the Joker.

Every matter has its antimatter, every Superman his Kryptonite. Batman's arch nemesis is, of course, the Joker. He's been portrayed on screen before. But this time around Joker is not the comic figure of Cesar Romero, or the slick, over-the-top criminal portrayed by Jack Nicholson. The movie's writers and Heath Ledger have evoked a Joker that is something very different, and a whole lot darker. Batman is a tragic figure, a vigilante on a madman's quest. But he's also a good guy who's moral code keeps him just barely sane. He may dwell in the shadows, but shadows can not be cast without some light. This Joker is Nietzsche's abyss staring back into Batman. He is your own worst impulses given free reign. This time around, the Joker is something he hasn't been in a very long time. He is terrifying.

I went in thinking there was no way it could live up to the hype. I was wrong. Hearing a bit of the Oscar buzz, I had doubts that any movie based on a comic would ever allow for a performance that the Academy would recognize. No longer. What I'm saying here is that I liked it. A bunch. And I think if you don't mind a dark, edge-of-your-seat thriller, you will probably like it too.

1 comment:

Lee said...

You successfully moved me from "should probably go see" to "must definitely see - this week"